Photo: Karsten Steiner
Photo: Karsten Steiner
LASSE HJELM 1924-2010

Lasse Hjelm was born just south of Uppsala, in 1924. He grew up in a home filled with music and song. They had no instruments, electricity nor radio – but they filled their evenings with song, which attracted the local folk-musicians. When he was ten, his mother bought a square piano at an auction. He learnt to play by ear and started taking lessons at the newly founded School of Music in Uppsala.

Lasse Hjelm's deep interest in people started at an early age. In his book "Med musik som medel" (Music as Methodology) (Hjelm, 2005), he describes the people and meetings that shaped and influenced him. One of his main childhood influences was "the grounds-keeper", who was quite the character. They would long conversations about life, people, the present and the future. A common thread in their conversations was the grounds-keeper's use of "You're always asking just one more question" (Hjelm, 2005, page 26). "Keep asking questions" is also one of the founding principles of the FMT-method.

When he was fourteen, Hjelm started conducting a quartet comprised of a saxophonist, clarinettist, drummer and pianist. When the orchestra played, he would observe the people's dance movements and interpret their patterns. For Hjelm, it was important to find the music that best appealed to the audience. It was here that one of the cornerstones of what would later characterise the FMT-method was formed – the importance of "playing with" rather than "playing for". The Savoy Orchestra, as they was called, quickly became both celebrated and in demand because of their aptness for playing with the public by adapting the music to the dancing crowd's movements.

During the 1950's Hjelm got married. He and his wife moved to Örebro, where he got a job at a music store and started raising a family. In the early 1960's the family moved to Ludvika, where he ran a music store of his own. In 1971 they moved to Uppsala, where Hjelm was offered a job at the Municipal Music School, and where he quickly became a highly appreciated music pedagogue in the Uppsala region. He was also invited to the Ulleråker Hospital to discuss a musical programme for its residents. He took part in a project which aimed to create more open wards and increased habiliation. It was here he started developing his methodology, even if he was aware of it at the time. Although he didn't see himself as one, he soon came to be known as a "music therapist".

He was invited to run the musical department at the Folke Berndadotte Home, an independent unit of the Academic Hospital, where he was positioned from 1975 to 1989. For Hjelm, it was important to interact with the residents. He wanted to engage with them, rather than play for them. It was during these years at the Folke Bernadotte Home that he was to develop what later came to be known as Functionally Oriented Music Therapy – the FMT-method. Hjelm was inspired by authors such as David Ingvar, Britta Holle, Gunnar Kylén and Jean Paget.

In 1982, he collaborated with Märta Tikkanen. Together, they held a series of lectures and courses at various Finnish institutions. Alongside this, a course was started at the Swedish Vocational College in Jakobstad.

In 1987, Lasse Hjelm founded the Institute of Music Therapy – the Centre for Functionally Oriented Music Therapy, in Uppsala. The first FMT-therapists started that same year. A three-year long, half-time programme was formed. At the Municipal School of Music, Functionally Oriented Music Therapy was offered to troubled students from elementary- and special needs schools.

In 1988 Ingesund School of Music started offering a programme for FMT-therapists, after Hjelm's teaching plan had been accepted by the school's programme committee.

In 1989 Hjelm was invited to Seoul by the World Health Organisation, for the purpose of taking part in a habilitation project for youths with special needs.

During 1995 and 1996, the Swedish National Board of Welfare supported a project by Hjelm and Chief Medical Officer Ulla Britt Sundqvist-Stensman. The project sought to offer FMT to long-term psychiatric patients of the Uppsala University Hospital. (Sundqvist-Stensman & Hjelm, 1998, database SveMed, "Socialmedicinsk tidskrift", number 8, pages 457-461).

Hjelm combined his own experiences and findings with research from sometimes vastly different fields, and he was often ahead of his time. Both Swedish and international researchers have displayed interest in the FMT-method, and research has been conducted in Sweden, Germany and Japan. Professional FMT-therapists can be found all over the world.

Lasse Hjelm's journey, from that of a self-taught music therapist, to the creator and founder of a unique form of therapy that is celebrated both in and outside of Sweden, is truly astounding. Many, many lives have been improved thanks to Functionally Oriented Music Therapy – the FMT-method.

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FMT – Functionally Oriented Music Therapy

A Description of
the FMT-Method

The Methodology

Target Groups


A Film about the FMT-method